The path of intercession that Mr. Howells was following now took on a new definiteness and began to go steeply upwards. The hard cases on whose account he had been called back for further intercession had all been in the village and under his personal influence. But in Mr. Gosset’s son there was a soul whom he had never seen, and probably would never meet, whom he had no possible means of influencing, except by way of the’ Throne. The Lord said to him. “This will be the test case of your intercession.” It was evident that the Lord had been preparing His servant to gain a much higher position than he had realized, and for this he was going to be turned aside from his work among men to deal only with God. The prayer was made quite definite by being written on a card, signed by both Mr. Gosset and himself, of which they each kept a copy. Mr. Howells counted it as one of the most precious things in his possession.
On returning from London, as part of his abiding, he was called to be on his knees for three hours every evening, from 6 to 9 p.m., after he had returned from the mine. He saw how the Lord was preparing for this when a few weeks before He had him give tip the leadership of the mission to his friend. Now he was called to give up all spiritual activities outside, and he was not even to attend meetings in the mission. He was to read the Bible through on his knees, which indeed was the way he always read it, and the Holy Ghost would be his Teacher. “It took a little time before I could learn to be absolutely quiet in His presence,” he said. “I had been so used to preaching, that whenever I had new light on the Word, I was apt to preach without knowing it, although there were no people there! I had to pull myself up all the time.” The initial conditions of the abiding were: (1) Fasting — two meals a day. (2) Living in the attitude of prayer-which meant being hatless. (3) Giving up all outward work at the mission, and not going to one service. (4) The three hours each evening to be spent on his knees, two in reading the Word, and the last one in waiting before God. He knew there were to be other places of abiding, but they were not yet given.
This life was different indeed from the one he had been living — to be hidden away, after years of activity. Instead of fellowship with Christians, it was to be only with the Lord. He was not even allowed to make known at home, nor to the wider circle of his friends, that he had given up the mission to his friend and by choice had entered this path of in intercession. So a rumor went about that something in the visit to London had been a disappointment, and had caused him to give up the mission and never attend a place of worship.
At first he felt he could never draw such joy from this hidden life as he had in active work. It seemed a great tragedy to him that he was getting much light on the Word, but there was no outlet for it; he even had the idea that God would never allow him to preach again. Another disadvantage was that it was not so easy to pray in the evenings as in the mornings, because the happenings of the day made an impression on his mind, and at first it was difficult to shake them off. “Although we may be away from the presence of people, how hard it is,” he used to say, “to silence the voices of self. But after a time the Lord brought me to the place where the moment I shut the door at six o’clock, I left the world outside and had access into the presence of God. It was perfect fellowship. I could truly say, ‘So nigh, so very nigh to God, I cannot nearer be; For in the person of His Son, I am as near as He.'”
The Lord then told him that he must be open to be taken by Him into any position that the prophets or apostles took. “I saw how the iniquity of the nation was laid upon Ezekiel,” he said, “but I wasn’t afraid of being tested in food like him. Neither was I afraid of Jeremiah, but I was afraid of Isaiah! There was never a prophet like that man, of royal blood, and one of the greatest statesmen and writers, but I saw how the Holy Ghost humiliated him in what He called him to do (Isaiah 20). The only comfort I had was that by starting to read at Genesis, it would take me about two months before I reached him! But much sooner than that I reached something else, and I couldn’t escape it. I wasn’t tested in Genesis, but I came to Numbers 6:2-6, ‘When either man or woman separate themselves to vow the vow of a Nazarite… all the days of the vow of his separation, there shall no razor come upon his head… he shall be holy and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow… he shall come at no dead body.’ And the Holy Ghost said to me, ‘For the period of this intercession you are to live like this. If your father or mother die, you are not to go near them, and on no account are you to use a razor.’
“I told the Lord it would be far better to die than to do this. I was just thirty years old, and one of six brothers who had all lived a most respectable life, and I knew they would never allow a thing like that at home. To go without a hat was bad enough, but this was a thousand times worse. I thought that every man who grew a beard at least trimmed it every week, but a Nazarite could not touch his hair or beard. And the devil whispered, ‘At this rate, in six months it will be down to your knees, and the only place fit for you will be the asylum. It would not be so bad if you only went there yourself, but the worst of it is, you will send your parents there also.’
“I told the Holy Spirit I knew of no one who had been called to do such a thing in this generation, and how could I ever give in to it? But, as always, He insisted in getting at the real reason for unwillingness. Excuses would never do for Him. ‘Tell Me the truth,’ He said, ‘why are you not willing to walk like Samuel and John the Baptist?’ ‘Because of my parents,’ I answered. ‘Do You mean me to put them in the grave or in an asylum?’ And I really thought this was the reason. But the Lord said, ‘Put your parents on the cross. My mother was in the crowd when I hung on the cross — the greatest Victim the world has ever known. You tell me the real reason why you are not willing to do it.’ So I told Him, ‘The real reason is that the influence of people will be too strong for me, and I am afraid of being overcome by it.’ ‘Exactly,’ He said. ‘And that is the reason why I Want you to do it. If there is no world in you, how can the world influence you? Has it ever influenced a dead person? You will be a Nazarite until all that is taken out of you.’ He also added, ‘Is not a beard anyhow more natural for a man than shaving?’ And I had to admit it was. I said one more thing to the Lord: ‘It was bad enough for me to take tramps home, but for me to be a tramp — I know my brothers will never live with me. Let me go to lodgings.’ But He answered, ‘No; you must walk it at home. Before you gain this position, every natural affection, every tender tie must be broken, until the souls of other people become to you the same as the souls of your own.'”
He knew he had to go through with it; it was no use kicking against the pricks. He just had to say, as usual, “Pull me through”, and it needed pulling! He had a few days’ grace before his people at home or the outside world would notice the absence of the razor. He had to be prepared for the effect upon them. This was all taking place just a few weeks after there seemed such prospects for his life through the invitation to London. Mr. Gosset’s father was a personal friend of King Edward VII, and Rees’ visit to Mr. Gosset’s home was an event in his own father’s life; there had been a notice of it in the local paper, and he knew that it came from his father. It was altogether right for people to see that a person with the Holy Ghost can keep company with lords as well as with tramps! His parents were really proud of him, and looked forward to another opening. In all the strange paths through which he had been led in the previous few months, they had never doubted his sincerity, their only objection was that he allowed things to go too far. But now there was to be this crowning “folly”!
The first thing they noticed was that he did not go out on week nights as usual, and they wondered what was wrong in the mission. Then they saw that he did not come downstairs on Sunday. His father and mother themselves stayed back from chapel that day, and he could hear them whispering downstairs, “What has happened to him? Was he disappointed in his visit to London?” Finally, when they noticed that he had not shaved and was spending all his time in his room, they thought the worst had come! “I drank that cup to the bottom,” Mr. Howells said. “If cost me to do this to my parents, and they would have done anything to prevent my being an open failure in the eyes of the public. How I wished I could give a word of explanation! That would have made up for everything; but no, the path was, ‘He opened not His mouth’. That was as painful to me as the actual death I was to go through before the outside world.
“It was a great death, it was the talk between every two. The flesh was not to be spared on any point. Many thought my outward appearance was the result of failure, but they could not detect where the failure had come. Even my clothes at that time were enough to make my people ashamed of me, because the Lord had made me give away my best and keep only one suit. For the first two weeks I did not have victory, and when going to work it was a most painful experience. During the time I walked about with Will Battery those years before, and the people turned round and stared, I used to blush, for I had never seen a man like him — never shaved, hair long, shoes unlaced; and I had thought then, ‘I am blushing to walk with him; but supposing I took his place!’ It came on me at that time that the Saviour took his place, died his death, and brought all that disgrace on His ‘own earthly family, while I was sensitive and blushed just to be with him. It came to me then, too, ‘One day you will have to walk like that’; and as sure as He said it, i was now having to do it. If I only blushed when I passed certain people, He made me walk that same way again. He watched me on every point, until I became as dead as a person who has really died. It was only the value of a lost soul that made me do it.”
The criticism he had was not only from the world; much of it was from the religious people. They said they knew he was going too far; they had prophesied this fall and now it had come. It was the experience of Psalm 69:8, “I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother’s children.” And the reason is given in the following verse: “For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me.” Only a-very few of the inner circle knew that it was by choice he had taken this way of intercession, and that the Holy Spirit was making him tread himself that very path of shame into which so many drift because of sin. The world thought” he was “like the monks, or had taken a silly notion into his head,” or that it was the effect of failure and that’ he had gone out of his mind.
We can only imagine what this meant to Miss Elizabeth Jones, who remained his close spiritual companion, although they had surrendered the hope of marriage. On one occasion, when they were to meet and she was hindered from coming in time, Mr. Howells thought that she had failed at last, and could no longer stand being seen with him, with his long, unkempt hair and beard. But she never failed once. She stood steadily with him right through.
But if at the beginning the world was affecting him, by the end it was he who was affecting the world, for people sensed the presence of God with him, and said so. Even some with no religious faith would take their hats off when they passed him in the streets; and one old man used to tell people, “You mark my words: there goes a modern John the Baptist.” An evidence of the effect he had on the district was seen later. when a man, who did not know his name, simply asked the ticket collector at the station where “the man with the Holy Ghost” lived, and was directed to Mr. Howells.
He himself said of the test, “In two weeks I had the victory and became dead to the influence of the world. It was as Paul said: ‘The slight trouble (affliction) of the passing hour results in a solid glory past all comparison’ (2 Cor. 4:17 Moff. Trans.). Oh, the glory of that inward life! The three hours in the evening were a time spent in glory; it was nothing less than the Word being illuminated by the Holy Ghost. What perfect peace the Spirit gave me and what love for a lost soul! Up to that time I had always had fear of the searchings of the Holy Spirit, I was afraid of the new places of abiding because I could never refuse them; and while there is the least fear, there is not perfect liberty. People may think they have no fear, when they have never been tested. I thought I would have no fear of going against the world and its opinions, and that it was the easiest thing to be dead to it, but it was the greatest error I ever believed. I had to be pulled through inch by inch; it was the process of sanctification, when the self-nature and all its lusts had to be changed for the divine nature (Rom. 6:6; 2 Peter 1:4.) Daily I decreased and He increased. Beyond all that, it was the third heaven with its eternal visions!”
After walking six months as a Nazarite, the Lord gave him the assurance that the intercession had been gained, and he came into wonderful liberty in the presence of God. He went straight to his mother and told her he was free, and that he could shave: at which she was so overjoyed that all she could say again and again was “Thank God!”
In the correspondence over the next few months between him and Mr. Gosset, there were numerous references to this certainty in both their letters. The only immediate indications of the answer were that the son changed his way of life, signed the pledge, left the army and went farming in Canada. It wasn’t until twelve years later that Mr. Howells received the news of the full outcome of the intercession. A letter came from Mr. Edgar Faithfull, Secretary of the South Africa General Mission, written on August 3, 1921, from Cape Town, and it said:
My Dear Mr. Howells,
You will have heard of the death of Mr. John Gosset on March 12 last, after being ill for one week with pneumonia; his last words were, “The Lord has come.” Mr. Pirouet received this news from his son, Ralph Gosset, who goes on to tell of his own conversion. (Did you say, “Diolch Iddo”?) An evangelist had been holding meetings which he and his wife went to. The man spoke on the Prodigal Son, and the words “he came to himself”, stuck in Gosset’s ears; the next day when plowing they haunted him. A few days after, he and his wife stood up and testified in the meeting. This is great news, and I know you will be glad to hear it. I believe you gave time to definite prayer for him years ago, and had the assurance your prayer was heard. I believe Ralph Gosset is farming somewhere in Canada.